The Shadow Out Of Time

One of the more unusual book cover quotes you’ll see is this one from Tony Martin:

“I’m 33 and ready for my first cardigan yet whenever I read a paper I feel like I’m back in short pants. Let go of the wheel you old farts, and let someone else have a drive”

It’s not the quote itself that’s unusual, more the book it’s attached to: Mark Davis’ distinctly non-comedic Gangland, a mid-90s screed against the dead hand the baby boomers then had on the wheel of Australian media.

It seems almost laughable now, in today’s crazy world where it’s perfectly possible to live a well-informed and entertained life without having to pay the slightest attention to anyone in the Australian media, but in the mid 90s the local product was pretty much still the only choice you had. And thanks to a combination of economies of scale and the small size of the local biz, that meant a media dominated by people and products aimed at Baby Boomers; people in their mid-40s or older at the time. Two words: Daryl Somers.

Today only traces of that nightmare remain – The Logies for one, so hope you’ve all got your ballots in – but today’s Fairfax papers provided us with a stark reminder of the golden days of Boomer dummy-spits towards comedians they felt didn’t show them enough reverence. Sure, it may not quite be up there with this Somers classic:

“I don’t think there’d be such a groundswell of support for us if there wasn’t a clear swing back to family entertainment.

We went (in 1999) because we weren’t edgy enough. Andrew Denton used to call us prehistoric and dinosaurs.

He had a huge go at us and said we shouldn’t be on air. We used to cop it simply for trying to do a fun show.”

But digging Ray Martin up yet again is almost worth it just for the reminder of what a bitter, petty, humourless, small-minded fellow he still is. Yes, Martin’s taking a swing at John Safran yet again:

Years after his incendiary encounter with Safran, Martin is no closer to forgiving him for what he says was ”a pissant thing to do at the time”. Filming a pilot that never went to air, although the segment made it onto other ABC shows and YouTube, Safran turned up at Martin’s home posing as a TV news reporter.

What was intended to be a stunt exposing the questionable methods of foot-in-the-door shows such as ACA, which Martin at that time presented, turned ugly when Martin’s temper flared. Martin admits he lost his cool, but calmed down when Safran, realising the skit was backfiring, pleaded with Martin.

Unbeknown to Safran or the public, a week before that, guards had been called to Martin’s house after a death threat in the wake of an ACA story about marijuana trafficking.

This is ”context without giving an excuse”, Martin says. ”[ABC chairman] Brian Johns apologised to my wife, sent a bunch of flowers and said … it wouldn’t go to air. Three weeks later, it did. I put my hand up for being thin-skinned about these things, because in this business there are cheap shots and what you throw at people you should cop, but it was just singularly unfunny to come along.

”I thought it was The Footy Show doing something. Andrew Denton tells me I’d like [Safran], but I don’t think so. He’s a serial pest.”

On this occasion, it seems Martin gets the last word.

(hey, Fairfax fine-diner Paul Kalina, less of the sad clown face: Martin only gets the last word because you wrote your story that way.)

Of course, Ray has form in this area, and not just with regards to Safran. Remember this dummy-spit?

Seasoned presenter Ray Martin has long bemoaned the fact he does not have his own chat show and went so far as to speak enviously of Enough Rope.

Martin received widespread scorn late last year when he said: ‘‘Clearly before Denton’s Enough Rope was on, I owned the genre.

‘‘There’s a bloody big hole in TV outside of what Denton does. I saw the John Laws interview and thought ‘S—, I should have done that. I know Lawsy well and he would have talked to me and we don’t have a spot at the moment’.

‘‘I have 40 specials I’ve done literally while Andrew was still at uni. That’s not to put him down for a second. It seems silly not to have me do it.”

Jesus Christ, do these entitled old farts ever stop whining about how they’ve been hard done by? “Context without giving an excuse”? To use a phrase synonymous with one of Martin’ contemporaries, “pigs arse”. The only problem with Safran’s sketch is – no, not “he didn’t go far enough”, give us some credit – but that simply using Martin’s tactics back on him doesn’t make those tactics right. “How would you like it”, is hardly basis for a decent argument, no matter how oh so very satisfying it is to see Martin crack the shits.

The other problem with all this upper-echelon Baby Boomer media hand-wringing is that you might come away from it all thinking that Andrew Denton is some kind of cutting-edge shit-stirring nice guy. Fortunately, there’s a cure for that, and it’s screening  around 11pm Friday nights on ABC1. Yes, Randling is back on the air. The fuck?

In case you don’t remember Randling, here’s a sample joke from last night’s (we think) premiere episode: “the giant squid’s eyeball can grow to a foot in diameter. That’s why it lives in the sea – it simply can’t afford eyedrops”. Dead silence from the audience. Oooh, only 26 more episodes to go and they’ve all been pre-recorded. No wonder it killed Andrew Denton’s television career.

Obviously the real mystery here is why a show that’s become a byword for utter failure is back. The 11pm Friday timeslot is usually when ABC1 repeats its topical comedy shows – repeats of Mad as Hell previously held the time slot – so you’d think Spicks and Specks would be a shoo-in, especially as it’s currently only repeated the once (new episodes Wednesday ABC1, repeats Thursdays ABC2). But no. Noooo.

All we can guess is that the ABC doesn’t have to pay a cent to repeat this crap. And even then, the price they’re paying just for reminding people they let this train wreck happen in the first place is way too high. Having it back on the air is more of a joke than anything that ever happened on Randling. Unfortunately, just like the first time around, the joke is firmly on us.


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  • Bean Is A Carrot says:

    Why has it taken until 2014 for Ray Martin to mention the death threat thing? I’ve read and heard him go on about this lots of times and this is new information (to me). That would explain why he was that level of angry about it (if it hadn’t happened he presumably would have been just pissed off), but surely he can’t have expected Safran to know about the death threat? Really?

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Got to get their money’s worth.

    Rightly a lot of blame for ‘Randling’ goes to Denton. But even most British panel shows which are past their prime will occasionally have a guest that will kick life into the format.It never really happened with Randling- what does that say for Australian ‘talent’?

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Ray mentions it on page 368 of his modestly titled 2009 autobiography Ray:

    “This was the period when I was covering Melbourne Mafia dealings for ACA and had recently received a death threat, which New South Wales police said I should probably take seriously.” Which you’d have to guess the police say about every death threat – much easier to live with an over-reaction to one than an under-reaction.

    That said, the threat does sound a little pissy – someone overheard someone threatening Ray in a Lygon St. cafe, and the police did nothing (Nine posted a guard outside his Sydney house for a couple of days). “So I wasn’t very happy about this idiot filming my house, my street and Luke’s school” Ray goes on to say, proving he and Australia’s libel laws remain passing acquaintances at best.

  • UnSubject says:

    Martin’s excuses in regards to his behaviour with Safran have always been weak.

    If it had been an ACA reporter who had shown up and been pushed around by his subject (as Martin did to Safran), you could guarantee that the subject would have been metaphorically burned alive by ACA. They wouldn’t have cared about context, they would have taken the footage at face value and made the story around it.

    Martin seems most pissed that the footage made him look like an angry reactionary man who couldn’t accept what he dished out, something in contrast to his carefully cultivated “firm but fair guy you can trust” image. After years on air, it’s the Safran footage that people remember over Martin’s other work (which is not helped by Martin continually mentioning it).

  • Billy C says:

    I would think there would a limit to the number of times they could repeat Mad As Hell. The actors in the sketch elements are probably covered by equity awards and I think you only get a certain number of repeats built in before you have to pay residuals. Randling isn’t acting so like Spicks and Specks they’ll be able to run them forever depending on the contract. Now the ABC has lost it’s BBC deal I wonder if we’ll see more of this sort of thing.